Why and how to treat your cat for worms
It can be alarming to discover that your cat has worms but it should not come as a surprise. All pets are affected at some stage in their life and many will be re-infected unless they are given regular, routine worming treatment. Except in rare cases, worms are unlikely to cause serious harm. Getting rid of worms is relatively simple and inexpensive so regular treatment is strongly recommended, particularly as some types of worm can be passed on to humans.
What sort of worms affect cats?
There are two important types of parasitic worm in cats - roundworms and tapeworms. Roundworms can grow up to 15 cm long and are white in colour. As their name suggests they are round (like string) whereas tapeworms are flat (like ribbons). Tapeworms can grow up to 60 cm long. Both roundworms and tapeworms live in the cat's intestines along with two other types of smaller worm, similar to roundworms, called whipworms and hookworms. These only rarely affect cats in the UK. In some countries there are parasitic worms that can live in the cat's lungs, heart, stomach or bladder but these are rarely seen in Europe.
What damage do worms cause?
Intestinal worms help themselves to your cat's food and can damage the gut causing loss of blood. Worms can also cause diarrhoea, dehydration and anaemia, and this may make your cat run-down and susceptible to other diseases. If there are a lot of worms your cat may cough, lose weight, have a rough, dry coat or a 'pot-bellied' appearance. In kittens a worm infection can be serious, causing poor growth and sometimes, even death. If there are large numbers of worms the intestine can become blocked (although this is rare in an adult cat) and this may be fatal.
How are worms passed on?
How can I tell if my cat has worms?
Apart from the general effects on health described above, signs of infestation are to be found in your cat's faeces (droppings). Segments of tapeworm looking like grains of rice can often be seen in the droppings or in the fur around your cats bottom. You may be startled to see them move. Roundworm eggs can only be seen by using a microscope.
How can worms be destroyed?
There are some highly effective treatments which will kill worms. These are available as liquids, tablets or injections. However, not all the products are equally good and some work against certain types of worms and not others. Your vet will be able to advise you on which product is best for your cat. Worms are so common that it is safe to assume that any kitten, cat with fleas, or animal which regularly catches rodents will be infected. Kittens should be dosed every two weeks from four weeks to 16 weeks of age and older cats should be treated about every three months. Some cats, eg. hunting cats, will need more regular treatment than others. You should discuss with your vet the most appropriate treatment regime for your pet.
Can I or my family be affected?
The common roundworm found in dogs is a rare but potentially serious cause of human disease. The larval stages burrow through the gut wall and become embedded somewhere within the body and can cause serious damage if they end up, for example, in the eye. There are occasional reports of the victim, usually a child, being blinded in one eye. However, the type of roundworm normally found in cats is much less likely to cause problems in humans and most of the parasites found in cats are unable to survive at all in people.
What can I do to reduce the risk?
Apart from regularly worming your pets, there are a number of other measures which can stop worms being passed on from cat to cat - or from cat to people.
If you want any other information on health issues concerning your cat please contact your veterinary surgeon who will be happy to advise you.